Miesha Tate is not an Olympic wrestler or judoka. She’s never won a world title in professional boxing, and she’s not a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
But when the Octagon door closes and it’s time to fight, there may not be anyone tougher in the UFC, male or female.
For that, travel back to Tacoma, Washington, where the future UFC women’s bantamweight champion began establishing a pattern that has been her trademark throughout a nearly nine-year professional MMA career. She’s here to fight, to win, and to do whatever it takes to get that victory.
“I got to be a part of it when it was bottom of the barrel,” Tate said of her MMA upbringing. “Not getting paid to fight, fighting girls that weren’t even in your weight class, and fighting on Indian reservations where it would be the joke of the card almost.
“I’ve been knocked out in my career, I had my ankle broken in wrestling, I’ve had my nose broken, and I’ve had my arm severely hyper-extended and I’m still here,” she continued, also pointing out a torn MCL suffered before she won the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title against Marloes Coenen. But it’s that arm injury that brought everything to the forefront; that marked Tate as a cut above when it came to toughness.
Sure, maybe Clint Eastwood’s character in the film “Million Dollar Baby” said that “tough ain’t enough,” but when two skilled and well-trained athletes are competing on a level playing field, sometimes tough is the only thing that will determine whether someone walks away with a victory or a defeat.
Tate didn’t get a win that night in Columbus, Ohio in March of 2012, but she left a lasting impression in her final moments as Strikeforce champion against Ronda Rousey.
“There were a lot of things going through my mind in just an instant,” she said after she lost her belt to Rousey due to an armbar submission. “When I found myself in that position, the last thing I wanted to do was tap. There are so many things on the line. For one, my pride and wanting to win that fight so badly; that if it hadn’t been stopped in that round, I would have gone on to fight the second round with my arm the way that it was. I would have done my best to continue to fight and win because that was just where I was mentally. It didn’t work out my way that time, and I was just thinking about my title, I was thinking about everything I had worked so hard for, and in that moment, it’s just really, really hard to want to say ‘okay, I want to give up. I have to stop.’ You never want to do that.”
Oddly enough, Tate was criticized after the fight for not tapping out immediately, something a male fighter probably wouldn’t have heard. But Tate had been crushing stereotypes for a long time before that fight, and she hasn’t stopped yet.
“I didn’t win, but I think I won a lot of respect and a lot of fans in the regard that it took a lot of balls to not tap,” she laughed. “It’s kind of a funny play on words, but just because they’re men, that doesn’t mean that they’re any tougher or any more prepared to go out there and give it 110% toward their battle.”
And Tate has battled more than most. It’s easy to forget that she started her UFC career 0-2. Granted, those losses were to Cat Zingano and Rousey, but 0-2 is still 0-2. She wouldn’t pack it in though. Not when she wasn’t particularly impressive in defeating Liz Carmouche and Rin Nakai, when she got rocked, dropped and nearly stopped by Sara McMann, or when she was an underdog against Holly Holm.
All she knew was to fight. So as Holm racked up round after round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, Tate marched forward, knowing that the fight wasn’t over until the final horn and hoping that Holm would make the one mistake she needed to turn things around. Let’s not mince words – it would be a long time, if ever, before Tate got another crack at the UFC belt, winning streak or not. A shutout loss would make things even worse. But there’s no one tougher than Miesha Tate, and when she found her opening, she pounced, locking in a rear naked choke that put Holm to sleep and put a championship belt around the waist of a fighter who deserves a grittier nickname than “Cupcake.”
“I had to be like a pitbull on a bone,” Tate said after realizing her championship dreams. “I couldn’t let her get out of that one.”
She didn’t. Tough was enough.
Photography courtesy of Todd Lussier/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images, Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images, Ian Spanier/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images, Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images, Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images